The character Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in a scene from the movie Moana.
The character Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in a scene from the movie Moana. Disney

MOVIE REVIEW: Moana is an original adventure in paradise

DISNEY has a history of casting strong female leads in their movies, and Moana continues that trend.

Opening to family audiences across the nation on Boxing Day, it's set to be a big hit with a heart as big as the Pacific Ocean.

Disney has been on a roll in the past few years with "princess movies" Frozen, Brave and Cinderella.

Moana is a welcome change, featuring a story that is original and fun, even though the title character is technically still a princess.

Maui ( Dwayne Johnson) and Moana (Aulii Cravalho) in a scene from the movie Moana.
Maui ( Dwayne Johnson) and Moana (Aulii Cravalho) in a scene from the movie Moana. Disney


If you've ever been to Fiji, Samoa or Vanuatu, then be warned.

Moana will make you want to book a tropical holiday back there before your slurpee has had a chance to melt: it's an animated paradise.

This is the story of Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho): the 16-year-old daughter of the chief of Motunui where the islanders live a self-sufficient existence.

She has a profound connection to the sea and yearns to venture out to the ocean, but she is not allowed.

Her father has one rule for the village: to never venture beyond the reef.

But when her island is threatened by a terrible darkness, Moana breaks the rule and sets sail on an epic adventure to save her people and find the answers she's been searching for her whole life.

The story is inspired in part by the oral histories of the people and cultures of Oceania.

Three thousand years ago, Polynesian voyagers travelled across the vast Pacific, discovering thousands of islands. But then, according to scholars, for about a millennium, their voyages stopped - and no one knows exactly why.

Moana's story is a tried-and-proven formula about finding out who you are, never giving up and the strength of family.

But it's hard not to be mesmerised by the animation and songs as you are taken along on a tropical adventure that will please parents and kids alike.

The most memorable part of Moana, to be honest, is the animation.

I've never seen so much colour on the screen. It must have been a nightmare tyring to animate something as unpredictable as the ocean, but the talent of the animators and technology have reached the point now where you'll have to remind yourself, often, that it's a cartoon.

The songs are catchy, as expected with a Disney film - all with a Polynesian theme that will have you tapping your toes.

The movie really kicks into high gear when Moana teams up with the demi-God Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson).

No matter what movie he appears in, Johnson always brings enthusiasm and lots of fun to the big screen.

Maui is an absolute crack-up and injects the movie with boundless energy.

There's a cuddly pig, a crazy chicken, pirates and the ever-present danger of the ocean, which makes Moana a good mix for all ages despite the 103-minute length.

While it does tend to borrow elements from several Disney movies, Moana's music, colour, culture and setting gives it a fresh and innovate look that, until now, hasn't been taken on by filmmakers. For this reason alone, it is well worth a trip to the movies.

Moana won't reach the heights at the box office of Frozen, but in Australia it will find a massive audience, thanks to our close proximity to the South Pacific.

Plus, with yet another strong female character in the lead role, young girls, in particular, will find it an inspiring adventure.

It's hard to find a fault with Moana, unless you count the fact you'll be singing the theme song to yourself for several days after as a "fault".

The running time may stretch younger viewers, but there's enough action in the third act to get their attention again.

Sit back and enjoy a trip to the Pacific seeing islander characters finally get a big-screen adventure to call their own.

Moana is a ripper.


Stars: Auli'i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement, Temuera Morrison.

Directors: Ron Clements, Don Hall.

Rating: PG

Verdict: 4/5 stars

In cinemas: Boxing Day

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